From the dining table of Fr. Shane Tharp in Prague, Oklahoma. (pronounced Prayge)
Last night, Fr. Shane (who is also a blogger), Mark Egbert and I went out to dinner at a quintessential local joint - a old filling station converted into a restaurant where I enjoyed local Okie fried catfish but turned down the okra. Fr. Michael Sweeney would have liked it - he always insisted on eating at "Joints" where the locals eat wherever we were and abhorred fast food. Taking that once in a life opportunity to eat fried Oklahoma catfish would have appealed to him.
Anyway, the food was good and the conversation sparkling as Fr. Shane is a very lively and sparkling kind of guy. He is pastor of a small town parish with an average Sunday attendance of 140 and the Shrine of the Infant of Prague - a devotion about which I had only the vaguest idea before. Fr. Shane explained that it is a devotion to Christ as King in his infancy. Since it developed out of a private late 16th century Spanish family's devotion, the Infant wears the elaborately ruffed and frilled royal clothing of the period and has spread throughout large parts of the world -especially those with Hispanic cultural backgrounds such as the Philippines where every province apparently has its own version of the Infant and the Madonna.
The many, many faces of American Catholicism are fascinating. Despite the homogenization of our culture through the mass media, St. Wenceslaus, Prague is still definitely not St. Dominic's, San Francisco. As our Australian co-Director put it when we took her on a little jaunt to Taos, New Mexico " I was told before I came that the US isn't one country, it is at least 6 countries in one."
The little parishes of the great plains, usually founded by central Europeans farmers and ranchers, Germans and Czechs, who have lived there for generations (almost everyone in the workshop was born in the area, which is extraordinary in my experience) are a whole 'nother world. People of the land, stoic, hard-working, enduring. (One woman rushed out as the workshop ended: "I have to feed the cows!" she gasped). The land is mostly flat and the wind blows hard. Breakfast was traditional Czech pastries. Small Catholic communities are immersed in a lake of (you guessed it) Baptists and Pentecostals.
This weekend, our teachers put on events in a wealthy, huge, suburban southern California parish like St. Kateri Tekakwitha, in the Cathedral in Boise, Idaho, in little St. Wenceslaus and way down in Palesteen, Texas. Last week was the"blue dot in a red state" university town of Bloomington, Indiana. Last week was also South Carolina and Bob Jones University territory. All of them different universes that you have to imaginatively enter because you have to try to understand and speak to their lived reality of Catholics in this place.
The faith is universal but the living of the faith, like politics, is local.
It is easy to forget that Retail Catholicism is where the action is, is where God is entering this world, where God is encountering and saving people. The faith as she is lived - catfish, Kalochees (sp?) and all - in Prague, Oklahoma.
Note: Fr. Mike rose from the proverbial dead on Thursday morning to our great delight and so was able to go on to Texas. Thanks a million for your prayers!
John Allen has an interesting article on the effects of Evangelicalism on the Catholics of Texas, which you can read here. Since I'm in Texas this week doing a parish mission at the historic Sacred Heart Church in Palestine ("PAL - uh - steen", as the locals pronounce it) I found it particularly interesting.
I was told that Catholics make up about 4% of the population in east Texas, and the vast majority of folks here are Baptists. The parishioner who picked me up at the airport - 90 minutes away - told me the parish of 800 families was a mix of dwindling Anglos and a rapidly increasing number of Latinos, all led by a jovial Indian pastor, Msgr. Zacharias Kunnakkattuthara.
Allen looks at the wide variety of "Catholicisms" in Texas and makes one broad generalization that rings true in my ears:
The moral of the story is that competition (within the limits of civility and mutual respect) is as healthy in religion as it is in any other area of life.
Texas thus offers a classic American illustration of a basic principle of religious sociology -- where there is religious ferment of any sort, there is likely to be Catholic dynamism too. Far from being threatened by pluralism, for the most part Catholicism ought to welcome it. To invoke a classic Aggie formula, a vibrant religious marketplace is basically “Good Bull.”
I found this to be true in my two years in Salt Lake City, UT, the heart of Mormonism (the soul of Mormonism is further south, in Provo). The Catholic community was much more tight-knit (but not uptight), better catechized, and clearer about the essence of Catholicism than other places I have been, simply because the so-called "dominant culture" was, well, so dominant. Catholics in Utah, in general, had to know their faith because it was constantly being questioned. They were also less prone to attack one another over liturgical preferences and more likely to support Catholic education.
Often, being Catholic meant making sacrifices that normally aren't encountered in areas that are more heterogeneous. I was told by Catholics there that sometimes their children might be excluded from activities organized by their Mormon playmates' families, or that when seeking jobs they felt their chances weren't enhanced when they were casually asked outside the interview, "what ward to you attend?" But because so many Mormons took their faith seriously, Catholics responded, and took their faith more seriously, too.
Now, if we all could pursue our relationship with Jesus and His Church more intentionally in the face of a secular culture that is well, enthusiastically secular, we'd be in much better spiritual shape!
Greetings and salutations from frozen Bloomington, Indiana where Fr. Mike and I are currently conducting a mission. Fr. Mike picked up the virus I had last week so he is resting a lot here while I am taking the opportunity to catch up on e-mail.
Update: Fr. Mike is too sick to speak tonight so he will stay in bed while I hold down the fort by myself. A doctor friend will be making a house call tonight which is great because Fr. Mike is scheduled to start another parish mission in Texas on Saturday. Your prayers for his recovery would be greatly appreciated!
Mary Sharon Moore, one of our traveling Called & Gifted teachers, writes to let us know about a radio Lenten series that she is producing for KBVM radio in Portland: Check it out!
My daily two-minute meditations, "Journey With the Word," is online at www.kbvm.fm. On the KBVM home page, click on "Listen Now," and follow the prompts.
The series airs in the mornings, Mondays through Saturdays, at 6:20 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time), and on Sunday mornings at 7:00 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time). The series repeats in the afternoons, Monday through Friday at 4:00 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time).
Each segment looks at the Lectionary readings of the day through the lens of vocation, asking: Vocationally, what do these words mean for my life?
The series runs through Pentecost, and will be aired on a few other Catholic radio stations throughout the United States, as well. If your local Catholic radio station would like to air the series, encourage them to contact me to request the audio files. They're free!
Perhaps God is more interested in effectiveness than we are...
A cab driver reaches the Pearly Gates and announces his presence to St. Peter, wo looks him up in his Big Book. Upon reading the entry for the cabbie, St. Peter invites him to pick up a silk robe and a golden staff and to proceed into Heaven.
A preacher is next in line behind the cabbie and has been watching these proceedings with interest. He announces himself to St. Peter. Upon scanning the preacher's entry in the Big Book, St. Peter furrows his brow and says, "Okay, we'll let you in, but take that cloth robe and wooden staff."
The preacher is astonished and replies, "But I am a man of the cloth. You gave that cab driver a gold staff and a silk robe. Surely I rate higher than a cabbie."
St. Peter responded matter-of-factly: "This is heaven and up here, we are interested in results. When you preached, people slept. When the cabbie drove his taxi, people prayed."
Received a tee shirt in the mail yesterday from a wonderful, long term fan of the Institute's work.
It reads: "Jesus loves you - but I'm his favorite."
Couldn't help but laugh. Especially in light of the discussion that Fr. Mike and I had yesterday about our upcoming parish missions. Our life and spiritual stories could not be more different.
He, the cradle Catholic never-left-the Church-makes Eagle-Scouts-look-dissipated-mid-western boy who has done everything right and whose life has been remarkably free of tragedy or great loss.
Or me - whose life has not been - well - like that. Even as a small child.
So who is Jesus's favorite?
In my lowest moments, there is sometimes no question in my mind about who got favorite child status.
But is that true?
Jesus had some pretty clear things to say about who was God's favorites. But it can be very hard to hold onto in real life.
Of course, at the end of all our journeys, none of that will matter. For obvious reasons, I have always been very fond of C. S. Lewis's idea in his fantasy: The Great Divorce: that heaven once achieved, works backwards.
"Ye can get some likeness of it if you say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. . .all this earthly past will have been heaven to those who are saved. . .all their life on earth, too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell.
Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven. . . .Ah, the saved. What happens to them is best described as the opposite of a mirage. What seemed, when they entered it, to be the vale of misery turns out, when they look back, to have been a well and where present experience saw only salt deserts memory truthfully records that the wells were full of water."
Which means, providing we both end up in the same eternal home, it won't much matter how different our journeys were. Because both of us will discover that we were the cherished, if unlikely, apple of God's eye.
The post-election, intertribal turmoil in Kenya had not reached the Dominican compound, set on a hillside near Kisumu, when a man approached in early January posing an ominous question.
What tribes did the people inside belong to, he wanted to know?
The man left before police arrived, and without learning that the priests were harboring about 30 refugees from three tribes -- Meru, Luo and Kikuyu. Dominican Fr. Martin Martiny, head of the compound, instructed guards on how to respond if the question came again. Tell anyone who asks that “we are all sons of St. Dominic,” he said.
Read the whole piece and pray for the religious and other peace-makers of Kenya.
It is all over the news this morning - there was a world-wide drop in Catholic religious of nearly 10% in 2006 and the world-wide total had dropped below 1 million. This is based upon a back page article in L'Osservatore Romano on Monday which gave the annual report on Church statistics.
The total of men and women in Catholic religious orders in 2006 stood at 945,210, which is 7,230 fewer than the previous year, said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini. He said an article Monday in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, had overstated the decrease.
No one seems to know where either the figure of 95,000 or 7,230 came from. But the gap between a "nearly 10% drop" and a 7/10th of 1 % drop (not nearly as sexy) is dramatic, A drop of only 7,230 in 2006 would mean that the number in 2005 was already well below 1 million - at 952,440.
Oh, and by the way, there was a blip upward in diocesan priests The Vatican's statistics office said the total number of priests worldwide stood at 405,000, with an increase of 600 diocesan clerics.
None of this is a surprise to those of us who do the math every year. The roughly 405,000 figure for priests has held steady for nearly 10 years now. But the neatness of those images "nearly 10%" and "under 1 million" captured some headline writer's imagination.
Then Associated Press really outdid itself on Wednesday, adding to the figures a couple of quotes from a two year old speech by Pope Benedict.
As quoted by MSNBC:
'Churches appear to be dying'
The Vatican has long lamented a decrease in the number of priestly vocations in Europe and elsewhere in recent years, while the number of priests has increased in Africa and Asia.
The Osservatore Romano report did not give a reason for the recent figures.
Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2005 speech to Italian priests that the West was "a world that is tired of its own culture, a world that has arrived at a time in which there's no more evidence of the need for God, much less Christ, and in which it seems that man alone can make himself."
Mentioning Australia, Europe and the United States, the pontiff said in that speech that "one sees that the great churches appear to be dying."
There's the bottom line: "the great churches are dying".
One can only be surprised that the AP didn't also announce the time and place of the funeral.
Meanwhile, I suppose this means I ought to nice to Fr. Mike. Being a religious and rarer-than-hen's-teeth relic of a dying church and all.
I just may have to buy him that small Starbucks latte I owe him.
An emergency prayer request for Carol McGee, whose has headed up our Called & Gifted team in Boise for the past 7 years. Carol was admitted to the ICU yesterday with stomach pains which have not yet been diagnosed and her condition is serious. Carol has been a radiant disciple, evangelizer and formation leader in her parish and her diocese for 10 years and has had a huge impact upon many people - including us.
Your prayers for her healing, her family, friends, and her parish would be greatly appreciated.
Carol is doing better but still in the hospital. She seems to be responding to meds although they are also running tests and won't let her out of the hospital until those tests come back. God is using your prayers on her behalf. Thanks to all of you who are praying for her!
Carol and her team are scheduled to put on a Called & Gifted workshop at the Cathedral in Boise in little over a week and another in Lewiston in March. Your prayers for her team and provision for those events would also be greatly appreciated!
I've been spending my 6 days at home in radio silence trying to recover from an aggravated chest cold in preparation for my upcoming 9 day marathon. Stay at home, rest, as little talking as possible, hot tea, tea, tea, etc. while working on the upcoming events. I'm a bit better every day. I even tried the Vicks on your feet remedy for coughing. My coughing did improve considerably but was that the result of the natural healing process or a product of the Vicks? Any one else have experience with this or is it an urban legend?
Then Thursday, I will be picked up by the illustrious Sandra Meisel and will spend the night at her house (and talk history/research stuff because she is the queen!). Sandra will drop me off at the Indianapolis airport Friday morning to catch the plane to . . . you guessed it - Prague, Oklahoma!
Where I will met another denizen of St. Blog's - Fr. Shane Thorp - who is the pastor of St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church where I will be conducting a Called & Gifted workshop February 15/16 with Mark Egbert.
We begin the "joyful season" of Lent today. That description usually sounds a little hollow in our ears, I suspect. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving usually don't make the top ten list of ways of expressing joy. Perhaps that in itself is evidence that our lives are a bit our of kilter.
When Jesus is asked by a scribe to name the greatest commandment (a serious question for the first century Jew who was encouraged to keep all the commandments with equal energy), Jesus replies,
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." Mt 22:37-40.
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are practices meant to help us fulfill these two commandments. Our natural tendency is to focus on ourselves - to love and care for ourselves first, then our neighbor, and to place God last. Of course, the neighbor we tend to care for is the one who is like us, or who has demonstrated some love for us first. And while God's expectations of us are clear in the Scriptures, He doesn't seem to force them - or Himself - upon us from day to day.
Even the "give ups" we embrace at the beginning of Lent can really be self-centered. Some people give up chocolate or dessert (perhaps in the hope of losing a few stubborn Christmas-New Years pounds). Lent can become a time of "self-improvement" based on superficialities (less caffeine in my system, less time wasted in front of the TV). But Lent is a time of turning away from myself and back to God and neighbor, so why would I ask God for the grace to do that during Lent, only to return to my "normal" ways Easter Sunday?
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are intimately linked. In fasting, whether from food, a vice, or time-consuming activity, God invites me to deny myself in order to break the illusion that I my life is about myself. In fasting, God teaches me that my needs - which often are really wants - do not have to be filled in order for me to be content. Fasting also prepares a space in my life in which more prayer can take place. So in choosing your fast this year, ask yourself, "what activity has taken hold over my life in such a way that it is interfering in my relationship with God and/or my neighbor?"
Prayer is our conscious, intentional turning towards our Creator. It acknowledges our Source and our End, and places Jesus and His Father and their mutual Love, the Holy Spirit, nearer the center of our life. Perhaps our best prayer might be to acknowledge our complete dependence upon God and to beg that knowing, loving and trusting Him might become our greatest desire. Perhaps in prayer, God may reveal to us the idols that we have worshipped instead of him; idols like wealth, security, power, our favorite sports team, beauty, etc.
The prophet Isaiah links fasting with our relationship to our neighbor:
Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Isaiah 58:5-7
Again, we see that almsgiving also focuses our attention away from ourselves. The "fast" Isaiah describes requires us to see the needs of the oppressed, the imprisoned, the hungry, naked, and homeless. It demands that we expand our understanding of "our own" beyond the narrow confines of family and friends.
How is Lent a "joyful season"? Perhaps that answer lies in actually praying, fasting, and giving alms. Maybe being less selfish and self-centered, maybe being more focused on a lived relationship with the God who loved us so much that He came to share our life, will be its own reward.
Renee Horton, a friend of mine from Tucson, has managed to get the Tucson Citizen, the paper for which she writes, to let her start a new blog titled, "God Blog." It will have "Posts related to religion, spirituality and ethics and the intersection of those things with everything else: presidential candidates, Hollywood celebrities, immigration, the environment. . ."
I admire Renee's constant search for God, her candor, and her willingness to look for God in unlikely places, including the atheist with whom she has lunch regularly.
Just wanted to let you know that Pagosa Springs is doing fine in the snow pack department.
In fact, the whole state is doing well. All areas of Colorado have topped 100% of their average snowpack which is great news since 80% of our water comes from snowpack and we've just recovered from 5 years of drought.
Fifty-nine cities in 31 states across the country are participating in the Forty Days for Life campaign February 6 - March 16. It is the fifth annual event of this kind.
The first 40 Days for Life campaign was conducted in Bryan/College Station, Texas. A local pro-life group prayed for an answer about how to reduce abortion in their area, and the answer God gave them was 40 Days for Life. The campaign was put together in a matter of weeks, yet it activated 1,000 people and led directly to a 28 percent decline in abortions in that community.
Utilizing prayer, fasting, and non-violent, non-confrontational prayerful vigil before abortion clinics, the participants ask God to transform hearts as well as help women considering abortions to be aware of other options and to offer support.
Why 40 days? See the video below!
For more information, or to find out if 40 days for life is active in your city, visit their website here.